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Vocapedia > Terrorism, Immigration,

Customs, Schools, Police


Surveillance > Technology


Biometrics, Face-recognition technology





The Era of Facial Recognition

Don’t be a stranger.


Patrick Chappatte

Mr. Chappatte is an editorial cartoonist.


May 23, 2019

















The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It

A little-known start-up helps law enforcement

match photos of unknown people to their online images

— and “might lead to a dystopian future or something,”

a backer says.


Jan. 18, 2020    Updated 9:00 a.m. ET



















Illustration: Minh Uong


Never Forgetting a Face


MAY 17, 2014














































































Why You’re in a Police Lineup, Right Now

NYT    15 October 2019





Why You’re in a Police Lineup, Right Now

Video        NYT Opinion        15 October 2019


Face-recognition technology is the new norm.


You may think, “I’ve got nothing to hide,”

but we all should be concerned.


It's being used to unlock phones, clear customs,

identify immigrants and solve crimes.


In the Video Op-Ed above,

Clare Garvie demands the United States government

hit pause on face recognition.


She argues that while this convenient technology

may seem benign to those who feel they have nothing to hide,

face recognition is something we should all fear.


Police databases

now feature the faces of nearly half of Americans

— most of whom have no idea their image is there.


The invasive technology violates citizens’ constitutional rights

and is subject to an alarming level of manipulation and bias.


Our privacy, our right to anonymity in public

and our right to free speech are in danger.


Congress must declare a national moratorium

on the use of face-recognition technology

until legal restrictions limiting its use and scope

can be developed.


Without restrictions on face recognition,

America’s future is closer

to a Chinese-style surveillance state

than we’d like to think.


















China: facial recognition and state control

The Economist    24 October 2018





China: facial recognition and state control

Video        The Economist        24 October 2018



















mass surveillance > biometrics        USA


using people’s

unique physiological characteristics,

like their fingerprint ridges

and facial features,

to learn or confirm their identity



















USA > Defense Department system

Automated Biometrics Identification System - Abis








biometric technology / biometric authentication tools        UK / USA



















biometric matching system        USA










face-recognition technology        USA










face-recognition technology        USA






watch?v=OLnRpiMepUw - NYT - 15 October 2019








face-recognition app        USA










A Face Search Engine Anyone Can Use Is Alarmingly Accurate        USA


PimEyes is a paid service

that finds photos of a person from across the internet,

including some the person may not want exposed.










facial recognition        UK




China: facial recognition and state control

The Economist        24 October 2018









facial recognition        USA






































NSA's facial recognition programs        USA










Clearview        USA
















UK > George Orwell's novels > 1984 - published 1948

Big Brother










Big Brother is watching you








Orwellian state / world








utopia ≠ dystopia        UK










dystopian future        USA











Corpus of news articles


Terrorism, Immigration,


Customs, Schools, Police > Surveillance


Biometrics, Face-recognition technology



N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces

From Web Images


MAY 31, 2014

The New York Times




The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.

The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

One N.S.A. PowerPoint presentation from 2011, for example, displays several photographs of an unidentified man — sometimes bearded, other times clean-shaven — in different settings, along with more than two dozen data points about him. These include whether he was on the Transportation Security Administration no-fly list, his passport and visa status, known associates or suspected terrorist ties, and comments made about him by informants to American intelligence agencies.

It is not clear how many people around the world, and how many Americans, might have been caught up in the effort. Neither federal privacy laws nor the nation’s surveillance laws provide specific protections for facial images. Given the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence mission, much of the imagery would involve people overseas whose data was scooped up through cable taps, Internet hubs and satellite transmissions.

Because the agency considers images a form of communications content, the N.S.A. would be required to get court approval for imagery of Americans collected through its surveillance programs, just as it must to read their emails or eavesdrop on their phone conversations, according to an N.S.A. spokeswoman. Cross-border communications in which an American might be emailing or texting an image to someone targeted by the agency overseas could be excepted.

Civil-liberties advocates and other critics are concerned that the power of the improving technology, used by government and industry, could erode privacy. “Facial recognition can be very invasive,” said Alessandro Acquisti, a researcher on facial recognition technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “There are still technical limitations on it, but the computational power keeps growing, and the databases keep growing, and the algorithms keep improving.”
Continue reading the main story

State and local law enforcement agencies are relying on a wide range of databases of facial imagery, including driver’s licenses and Facebook, to identify suspects. The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its “next generation identification” project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data.

The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing hundreds of millions of photographs of American passport holders and foreign visa applicants. And the Department of Homeland Security is funding pilot projects at police departments around the country to match suspects against faces in a crowd.

The N.S.A., though, is unique in its ability to match images with huge troves of private communications.

“We would not be doing our job if we didn’t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies,” said Vanee M. Vines, the agency spokeswoman.

She added that the N.S.A. did not have access to photographs in state databases of driver’s licenses or to passport photos of Americans, while declining to say whether the agency had access to the State Department database of photos of foreign visa applicants. She also declined to say whether the N.S.A. collected facial imagery of Americans from Facebook and other social media through means other than communications intercepts.

“The government and the private sector are both investing billions of dollars into face recognition” research and development, said Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer and expert on facial recognition and privacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “The government leads the way in developing huge face recognition databases, while the private sector leads in accurately identifying people under challenging conditions.”

Ms. Lynch said a handful of recent court decisions could lead to new constitutional protections for the privacy of sensitive face recognition data. But she added that the law was still unclear and that Washington was operating largely in a legal vacuum.

Laura Donohue, the director of the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown Law School, agreed. “There are very few limits on this,” she said.

Congress has largely ignored the issue. “Unfortunately, our privacy laws provide no express protections for facial recognition data,” said Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, in a letter in December to the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is now studying possible standards for commercial, but not governmental, use.

Facial recognition technology can still be a clumsy tool. It has difficulty matching low-resolution images, and photographs of people’s faces taken from the side or angles can be impossible to match against mug shots or other head-on photographs.

Dalila B. Megherbi, an expert on facial recognition technology at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, explained that “when pictures come in different angles, different resolutions, that all affects the facial recognition algorithms in the software.”

That can lead to errors, the documents show. A 2011 PowerPoint showed one example when Tundra Freeze, the N.S.A.’s main in-house facial recognition program, was asked to identify photos matching the image of a bearded young man with dark hair. The document says the program returned 42 results, and displays several that were obviously false hits, including one of a middle-age man.

Similarly, another 2011 N.S.A. document reported that a facial recognition system was queried with a photograph of Osama bin Laden. Among the search results were photos of four other bearded men with only slight resemblances to Bin Laden.

But the technology is powerful. One 2011 PowerPoint showed how the software matched a bald young man, shown posing with another man in front of a water park, with another photo where he has a full head of hair, wears different clothes and is at a different location.

It is not clear how many images the agency has acquired. The N.S.A. does not collect facial imagery through its bulk metadata collection programs, including that involving Americans’ domestic phone records, authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, according to Ms. Vines.

The N.S.A. has accelerated its use of facial recognition technology under the Obama administration, the documents show, intensifying its efforts after two intended attacks on Americans that jarred the White House. The first was the case of the so-called underwear bomber, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, tried to trigger a bomb hidden in his underwear while flying to Detroit on Christmas in 2009. Just a few months later, in May 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, attempted a car bombing in Times Square.

The agency’s use of facial recognition technology goes far beyond one program previously reported by The Guardian, which disclosed that the N.S.A. and its British counterpart, General Communications Headquarters, have jointly intercepted webcam images, including sexually explicit material, from Yahoo users.

The N.S.A. achieved a technical breakthrough in 2010 when analysts first matched images collected separately in two databases — one in a huge N.S.A. database code-named Pinwale, and another in the government’s main terrorist watch list database, known as Tide — according to N.S.A. documents. That ability to cross-reference images has led to an explosion of analytical uses inside the agency. The agency has created teams of “identity intelligence” analysts who work to combine the facial images with other records about individuals to develop comprehensive portraits of intelligence targets.

The agency has developed sophisticated ways to integrate facial recognition programs with a wide range of other databases. It intercepts video teleconferences to obtain facial imagery, gathers airline passenger data and collects photographs from national identity card databases created by foreign countries, the documents show. They also note that the N.S.A. was attempting to gain access to such databases in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The documents suggest that the agency has considered getting access to iris scans through its phone and email surveillance programs. But asked whether the agency is now doing so, officials declined to comment. The documents also indicate that the N.S.A. collects iris scans of foreigners through other means.

In addition, the agency was working with the C.I.A. and the State Department on a program called Pisces, collecting biometric data on border crossings from a wide range of countries.

One of the N.S.A.’s broadest efforts to obtain facial images is a program called Wellspring, which strips out images from emails and other communications, and displays those that might contain passport images. In addition to in-house programs, the N.S.A. relies in part on commercially available facial recognition technology, including from PittPatt, a small company owned by Google, the documents show.

The N.S.A. can now compare spy satellite photographs with intercepted personal photographs taken outdoors to determine the location. One document shows what appear to be vacation photographs of several men standing near a small waterfront dock in 2011. It matches their surroundings to a spy satellite image of the same dock taken about the same time, located at what the document describes as a militant training facility in Pakistan.



A version of this article appears in print

on June 1, 2014,

on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline:

N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images.

N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images,






Never Forgetting a Face


MAY 17, 2014

The New York Times



Joseph J. Atick cased the floor of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington as if he owned the place. In a way, he did. He was one of the organizers of the event, a conference and trade show for the biometrics security industry. Perhaps more to the point, a number of the wares on display, like an airport face-scanning checkpoint, could trace their lineage to his work.

A physicist, Dr. Atick is one of the pioneer entrepreneurs of modern face recognition. Having helped advance the fundamental face-matching technology in the 1990s, he went into business and promoted the systems to government agencies looking to identify criminals or prevent identity fraud. “We saved lives,” he said during the conference in mid-March. “We have solved crimes.”

Thanks in part to his boosterism, the global business of biometrics — using people’s unique physiological characteristics, like their fingerprint ridges and facial features, to learn or confirm their identity — is booming. It generated an estimated $7.2 billion in 2012, according to reports by Frost & Sullivan.

Making his rounds at the trade show, Dr. Atick, a short, trim man with an indeterminate Mediterranean accent, warmly greeted industry representatives at their exhibition booths. Once he was safely out of earshot, however, he worried aloud about what he was seeing. What were those companies’ policies for retaining and reusing consumers’ facial data? Could they identify individuals without their explicit consent? Were they running face-matching queries for government agencies on the side?

Now an industry consultant, Dr. Atick finds himself in a delicate position. While promoting and profiting from an industry that he helped foster, he also feels compelled to caution against its unfettered proliferation. He isn’t so much concerned about government agencies that use face recognition openly for specific purposes — for example, the many state motor vehicle departments that scan drivers’ faces as a way to prevent license duplications and fraud. Rather, what troubles him is the potential exploitation of face recognition to identify ordinary and unwitting citizens as they go about their lives in public. Online, we are all tracked. But to Dr. Atick, the street remains a haven, and he frets that he may have abetted a technology that could upend the social order.

Face-matching today could enable mass surveillance, “basically robbing everyone of their anonymity,” he says, and inhibit people’s normal behavior outside their homes. Pointing to the intelligence documents made public by Edward J. Snowden, he adds that once companies amass consumers’ facial data, government agencies might obtain access to it, too.

To many in the biometrics industry, Dr. Atick’s warning seems Cassandra-like. Face recognition to them is no different from a car, a neutral technology whose advantages far outweigh the risks. The conveniences of biometrics seem self-evident: Your unique code automatically accompanies you everywhere. They envision a world where, instead of having to rely on losable ID cards or on a jumble of easily forgettable — not to mention hackable — passwords, you could unlock your smartphone or gain entry to banks, apartment complexes, parking garages and health clubs just by showing your face.

Dr. Atick sees convenience in these kinds of uses as well. But he provides a cautionary counterexample to make his case. Just a few months back, he heard about NameTag, an app that, according to its news release, was available in an early form to people trying out Google Glass. Users had only to glance at a stranger and NameTag would instantly return a match complete with that stranger’s name, occupation and public Facebook profile information. “We are basically allowing our fellow citizens to surveil us,” Dr. Atick told me on the trade-show floor.

(His sentiments were shared by Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota and chairman of the Senate subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law. Concerned that NameTag might facilitate stalking, Mr. Franken requested that its public introduction be delayed; in late April, the app’s developer said he would comply with the request. Google has said that it will not approve facial recognition apps on Google Glass.)

Dr. Atick is just as bothered by what could be brewing quietly in larger companies. Over the past few years, several tech giants have acquired face-recognition start-up businesses. In 2011, Google bought Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, a computer vision business developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2012, Facebook bought Face.com, an Israeli start-up.

Google and Facebook both declined to comment for this article about their plans for the technology.

Dr. Atick says the technology he helped cultivate requires some special safeguards. Unlike fingerprinting or other biometric techniques, face recognition can be used at a distance, without people’s awareness; it could then link their faces and identities to the many pictures they have put online. But in the United States, no specific federal law governs face recognition. A division of the Commerce Department is organizing a meeting of industry representatives and consumer advocates on Tuesday to start hammering out a voluntary code of conduct for the technology’s commercial use.

Dr. Atick has been working behind the scenes to influence the outcome. He is part of a tradition of scientists who have come to feel responsible for what their work has wrought. “I think that the industry has to own up,” he asserts. “If we do not step up to the plate and accept responsibility, there could be unexpected apps and consequences.”


‘Not an Innocent Machine’

A few uses of face recognition are already commonplace. It’s what allows Facebook and Google Plus to automatically suggest name tags for members or their friends in photographs.

And more applications could be in the works. Google has applied for a patent on a method to identify faces in videos and on one to allow people to log on to devices by winking or making other facial expressions. Facebook researchers recently reported how the company had developed a powerful pattern-recognition system, called DeepFace, which had achieved near-human accuracy in identifying people’s faces.

But real-time, automated face recognition is a relatively recent phenomenon and, at least for now, a niche technology. In the early 1990s, several academic researchers, including Dr. Atick, hit upon the idea of programming computers to identify a face’s most distinguishing features; the software then used those local points to recognize that face when it reappeared in other images.

To work, the technology needs a large data set, called an image gallery, containing the photographs or video stills of faces already identified by name. Software automatically converts the topography of each face in the gallery into a unique mathematical code, called a faceprint. Once people are faceprinted, they may be identified in existing or subsequent photographs or as they walk in front of a video camera.

The technology is already in use in law enforcement and casinos. In New York, Pennsylvania and California, police departments with face-recognition systems can input the image of a robbery suspect taken from a surveillance video in a bank, for instance, and compare the suspect’s faceprint against their image gallery of convicted criminals, looking for a match. And some casinos faceprint visitors, seeking to identify repeat big-spending customers for special treatment. In Japan, a few grocery stores use face-matching to classify some shoppers as shoplifters or even “complainers” and blacklist them.

Whether society embraces face recognition on a larger scale will ultimately depend on how legislators, companies and consumers resolve the argument about its singularity. Is faceprinting as innocuous as photography, an activity that people may freely perform? Or is a faceprint a unique indicator, like a fingerprint or a DNA sequence, that should require a person’s active consent before it can be collected, matched, shared or sold?

Dr. Atick is firmly in the second camp.

His upbringing influenced both his interest in identity authentication and his awareness of the power conferred on those who control it. He was born in Jerusalem in 1964 to Christian parents of Greek and French descent. Conflict based on ethnic and religious identity was the backdrop of his childhood. He was an outsider, neither Jewish nor Muslim, and remembers often having to show an identity booklet listing his name, address and religion.

“As a 5- or 6-year old boy, seeing identity as a foundation for trust, I think it marked me,” Dr. Atick says. To this day, he doesn’t feel comfortable leaving his New York apartment without his driver’s license or passport.

After a childhood accident damaged his eyesight, he became interested in the mechanics of human vision. Eventually, he dropped out of high school to write a physics textbook. His family moved to Miami, and he decided to skip college. It did not prove a setback; at 17, he was accepted to a doctoral program in physics at Stanford.

Still interested in how the brain processes visual information, he started a computational neuroscience lab at Rockefeller University in Manhattan, where he and two colleagues began programming computers to recognize faces. To test the accuracy of their algorithms, they acquired the most powerful computer they could find, a Silicon Graphics desktop, for their lab and mounted a video camera on it. They added a speech synthesizer so the device could read certain phrases aloud.

As Dr. Atick tells it, he concluded that the system worked after he walked into the lab one day and the computer called out his name, along with those of colleagues in the room. “We were just milling about and you heard this metallic voice saying: ‘I see Joseph. I see Norman. I see Paul,’ ” Dr. Atick recounts. Until then, most face recognition had involved analyzing static images, he says, not identifying a face amid a group of live people. “We had made a breakthrough.”

The researchers left academia to start their own face-recognition company, called Visionics, in 1994. Dr. Atick says he hadn’t initially considered the ramifications of their product, named FaceIt. But when intelligence agencies began making inquiries, he says, it “started dawning on me that this was not an innocent machine.”

He helped start an international biometrics trade group, and it came up with guidelines like requiring notices in places where face recognition was in use. But even in a nascent industry composed of a few companies, he had little control.

In 2001, his worst-case scenario materialized. A competitor supplied the Tampa police with a face-recognition system; officers covertly deployed it on fans attending Super Bowl XXXV. The police scanned tens of thousands of fans without their awareness, identifying a handful of petty criminals, but no one was detained.

Journalists coined it the “Snooper Bowl.” Public outrage and congressional criticism ensued, raising issues about the potential intrusiveness and fallibility of face recognition that have yet to be resolved.
Continue reading the main story

Dr. Atick says he thought this fiasco had doomed the industry: “I had to explain to the media this was not responsible use.”

Then, a few months later, came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Dr. Atick immediately went to Washington to promote biometrics as a new method of counterterrorism. He testified before congressional committees and made the rounds on nightly news programs where he argued that terrorism might be prevented if airports, motor vehicle departments, law enforcement and immigration agencies used face recognition to authenticate people’s identities.

“Terror is not faceless,” he said in one segment on ABC’s “World News Tonight.” “Terror has measurable identity, has a face that can be detected through technology that’s available today.”

It was an optimistic spin, given that the technology at that early stage did not work well in uncontrolled environments.

Still, Dr. Atick prospered. He merged his original business with other biometrics enterprises, eventually forming a company called L-1 Identity Solutions. In 2011, Safran, a military contractor in France, bought the bulk of that company for about $1.5 billion, including debt.

Dr. Atick had waited 17 years for a cash payout from his endeavors; his take amounted to tens of millions of dollars.

In fact, some experts view his contribution to the advancement of face recognition as not so much in research but in recognizing its business potential and capitalizing on it.

“He actually was one of the early commercializers of face-recognition algorithms,” says P. Jonathon Phillips, an electronics engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which evaluates the accuracy of commercial face-recognition engines.


Ovals, Squares and Matches

At Knickerbocker Village, a 1,600-unit red-brick apartment complex in Lower Manhattan where Julius and Ethel Rosenberg once lived, the entryways click open as residents walk toward the doors. It is one of the first properties in New York City to install a biometrics system that uses both face and motion recognition, and it is a showcase for FST Biometrics, the Israeli security firm that designed the program.

“This development will make obsolete keys, cards and codes — because your identity is the key,” says Aharon Zeevi Farkash, the chief executive of FST. “Your face, your behavior, your biometrics are the key.”

On a recent visit to New York, Mr. Farkash offered to demonstrate how it worked. We met at the Knickerbocker security office on the ground floor. There, he posed before a webcam, enabling the system to faceprint and enroll him. To test it, he walked outside into the courtyard and approached one of the apartment complex entrances. He pulled open an outer glass door, heading directly toward a camera embedded in the wall near an inner door.

Back in the security office, a monitor broadcast video of the process.

First, a yellow oval encircled Mr. Farkash’s face in the video, indicating that the system had detected a human head. Then a green square materialized around his head. The system had found a match. A message popped up on the screen: “Recognized, Farkash Aharon. Confidence: 99.7 percent.”

On his third approach, the system pegged him even sooner — while he was opening the outer door.

Mr. Farkash says he believes that systems like these, which are designed to identify people in motion, will soon make obsolete the cumbersome, time-consuming security process at most airports.

“The market needs convenient security,” he told me; the company’s system is now being tested at one airport.
Continue reading the main story

Mr. Farkash served in the Israeli army for nearly 40 years, eventually as chief of military intelligence. Now a major general in the army reserves, he says he became interested in biometrics because of two global trends: the growth of densely populated megacities and the attraction that dense populations hold for terrorists.

In essence, he started FST Biometrics because he wanted to improve urban security. Although the company has residential, corporate and government clients, Mr. Farkash’s larger motive is to convince average citizens that face identification is in their best interest. He hopes that people will agree to have their faces recognized while banking, attending school, having medical treatments and so on.

If all the “the good guys” were to volunteer to be faceprinted, he theorizes, “the bad guys” would stand out as obvious outliers. Mass public surveillance, Mr. Farkash argues, should make us all safer.

Safer or not, it could have chilling consequences for human behavior.

A private high school in Los Angeles also has an FST system. The school uses the technology to recognize students when they arrive — a security measure intended to keep out unwanted interlopers. But it also serves to keep the students in line.

“If a girl will come to school at 8:05, the door will not open and she will be registered as late,” Mr. Farkash explained. “So you can use the system not only for security but for education, for better discipline.”


Faceprints and Civil Liberties

In February, Dr. Atick was invited to speak at a public meeting on face recognition convened by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. It was part of an agency effort to corral industry executives and consumer advocates into devising a code for the technology’s commercial use.

But some tech industry representatives in attendance were reluctant to describe their plans or make public commitments to limit face recognition. Dr. Atick, who was serving on a panel, seemed to take their silence as an affront to his sense of industry accountability.

“Where is Google? Where is Facebook?” he loudly asked the audience at one point.

“Here,” one voice in the auditorium volunteered. That was about the only public contribution from the two companies that day.

The agency meetings on face recognition are continuing. In a statement, Matt Kallman, a Google spokesman, said the company was “participating in discussions to advance our view that the industry should make sure technology is in line with people’s expectations.”

A Facebook spokeswoman, Jodi Seth, said in a statement that the company was participating in the process. “Multi-stakeholder dialogues like this are critical to promoting people’s privacy,” she said, “but until a code of conduct exists, we can’t say whether we will sign it.”

The fundamental concern about faceprinting is the possibility that it would be used to covertly identify a live person by name — and then serve as the link that would connect them, without their awareness or permission, to intimate details available online, like their home addresses, dating preferences, employment histories and religious beliefs. It’s not a hypothetical risk. In 2011, researchers at Carnegie Mellon reported in a study that they had used a face-recognition app to identify some students on campus by name, linking them to their public Facebook profiles and, in some cases, to their Social Security numbers.

As with many emerging technologies, the arguments tend to coalesce around two predictable poles: those who think the technology needs rules and regulation to prevent violations of civil liberties and those who fear that regulation would stifle innovation. But face recognition stands out among such technologies: While people can disable smartphone geolocation and other tracking techniques, they can’t turn off their faces.

“Facial recognition involves the intersection of multiple research disciplines that have serious consequences for privacy, consumer protection and human rights,” wrote Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Digital Democracy, in a recent blog post.

“Guidelines at this stage could stymie progress in a very promising market, and could kill investment,” Paul Schuepp, the chief executive of Animetrics, a company that supplies mobile face-recognition systems to the military, recently wrote on the company’s blog.

Dr. Atick takes a middle view.

To maintain the status quo around public anonymity, he says, companies should take a number of steps: They should post public notices where they use face recognition; seek permission from a consumer before collecting a faceprint with a unique, repeatable identifier like a name or code number; and use faceprints only for the specific purpose for which they have received permission. Those steps, he says, would inhibit sites, stores, apps and appliances from covertly linking a person in the real world with their multiple online personas.

“Some people believe that I am maybe inhibiting the industry from growing. I disagree,” Dr. Atick told me. “ I am helping industry make difficult choices, but the right choices.”


A version of this article appears in print

on May 18, 2014,

on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline:

Never Forgetting a Face.

Never Forgetting a Face,










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